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November 2010 - Terra Infirma


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29 November 2010

Baby, It's Warm Outside

It feels a bit weird to be reading about the climate change talks in balmy Cancun when looking out the window at a foot of snow and wearing two pairs of trousers. But the current cold period in the UK, like the freezing winter at the start of the year, is a great illustration of the difference between short term, local weather and the long term global climate patterns which are likely to make 2010 the warmest year on record.

(btw the BBC has a good clip on why the UK is under snow at the minute).

Hopes aren't high for Cancun - with very little progress has been made since Copenhagen last year and with Obama further weakened by the Tea Party's gains in the mid term elections. Of course there's nothing to stop individual countries acting, but my hopes are increasingly with business to bail us out. To the green activist corps this probably sounds like a crazy notion, but, I would ask them, who really controls the global supply chains? Who chooses what we consumers can or cannot buy and at what price? Who develops and commercialises green technologies? Who can act quickly and decisively without fearing electoral backlash? Business, that's who.

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25 November 2010

Green Business Confidential Ep4: A Time For Leaders

Here's the fourth Green Business Confidential podcast, entitled "A Time for Leaders", for your listening pleasure:
Audio MP3

Or, you can download it here and listen on your MP3 player:
GBC4 A Time for Leaders
You can get the whole series here.
Play

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24 November 2010

Staff Engagement - No Pain, No Gain

What a grind it is staying fit. This morning, after dropping the two boys off at nursery, I started my usual run up through the beautiful Jesmond Dene that cuts a green swathe through the red brick suburbs of the east of Newcastle.

Cue sleet.

Urgh. Cold, wet and muddy I trundled around the pathways and tracks, all the time repeating the mantra "it's good for me, it's good for me". If it ain't raining, it ain't training.

This reminded me that the other week somebody quoted back to me something I wrote in the Three Secrets of Green Business - that staff engagement in sustainability is like trying to get and stay fit. You can't just go to the gym once and expect to grow huge muscles or marathon runner cardiovascular fitness levels. No, you start off gently and build it up, setting targets and working to meet them, celebrating success and raising the bar once again. You have to get into a routine and a habit of doing exercise, and your muscles have to be trained to take the strain.

Staff engagement is just the same - you can't just hold a lunchtime lecture and expect a green revolution. You have to start off gently and build it up, getting your staff into the habit of green behaviour. It is said that it takes six weeks to learn a new habit and make it reflexive, so it is going to take some time to convert each individual to new ways of working. Succeeding will take persistence, thick skin and no little guile - I talk about green jujitsu methods to turn potential conflict into co-operation. You can make it easier, but it's not easy.

Just as I got to the end of my run this morning, the sleet faded, the clouds parted and the sun came out - giving me the most wonderfully corny analogy to finish this blog post. Keep at it, be smart and keep smiling and you will succeed!

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22 November 2010

When the going gets tough...

You have to be living on the planet Zog not to notice we are at a time of great economic uncertainty - with whole economies teetering on the brink, banks still in part or full state ownership and the dark shadow of redundancy hovering at the back of people's minds. Green might seem like a luxury at such a time but many of the world's biggest names - Wal-Mart, IKEA, Marks & Spencer, Tesco, P&G and Unilever - are not just sticking to their sustainability strategies but boosting them.

Why?

Crudely speaking you can do two things to increase profits: cut costs and boost turnover.

While cutting jobs is attractive due to the size of wage bills, cutting energy, raw material, waste and water costs is easier and cheaper - you don't have to pay electrons redundancy. I know of one organisation which has a £2 million road fuel bill who are literally telling their drivers that every £25k they shave off that bill will save somebody's job.

Boosting turnover has a similar story. Yes, public sector spending is being cut back, but that makes tendering more competitive not less, and green tender points might just give you the edge. Other big buyers such as retailers and brands looking for contract manufacturing still want to go green - which means either their suppliers go green or they find suppliers who will.

Despite all this, some companies are retracting on green issues - I've been advising a couple of highly talented sustainability experts in the ways of the independent consultant recently as their employers are cutting back. Both will make great consultants which means everyone can benefit from their skills, but it is a great shame nonetheless.

A piece of advice that has resonated with me for years is that the Tour de France is won on the uphills not the downhills. It is tough out there, but don't be fooled into thinking you can't afford to go green in a recession. You can't afford not to.

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19 November 2010

Dilbert on Green Consultants

Dilbert.com

No comment...

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17 November 2010

Boost your business by up to 11% (honestly...)

No, this isn't one of those spammy 'newsletters' from online marketing 'experts' you find yourself 'signed up' to (if they're so good at online marketing why do they have to spam you?). Regular readers will have heard me say "go green, save money" is for amateurs and that "go green win more business" is the real driver for most businesses to improve their sustainability ranking.

The going rate for 'green points' in UK public sector procurement exercises appears to be about 10%. Imagine what it would do to your chances to max out on those points every time? My maths says that will give you up to 11% advantage over those who do nothing.

But this is no cheap get rich quick message. You won't do it just by writing a policy, an environmental management system or getting some recycling bins sorted. You'll need some really tangible proof of your commitment - think wind turbines, large solar arrays, electric vehicles, eco-buildings or wholesale eco-design of products. And you won't be able to neglect the other 90% of procurement points either - you'll still need to deliver a quality product or service at a competitive price.

BTW I'm currently putting together a set of  workshops for the end of the month to get businesses fit to compete on green. They'll be held in Newcastle & Teesside - more details here.

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15 November 2010

Are we ready for cloud living?

No, not living in the sky like that city at the end of The Empire Strikes Back where Harrison Ford gets immobilised in chocolate. Have you ever:

  • Rented a CD or DVD?
  • Borrowed a book from a Library?
  • Used a car club?
  • Watched a movie on demand?
  • Downloaded MP3s?
  • Shared garden tools with your neighbours?

If 'yes' then you've done a bit of "cloud living" according to this month's Wired magazine (article not available online). This is a snappy new term for a business strategy I've been promoting for years - product-service systems - delivering the service required by consumers without giving them ownership of a tangible product. This has significant environmental benefits - downloading an album on MP3 saves 40-80% of the carbon of buying a CD. The cloud analogy has been borrowed from 'cloud computing' - where all software and storage is on-line and your computer is simply a portal to the cloud (eg Google Docs). 'Cloud living' is a more attractive term than 'product-service system' and it also has the perspective of the consumer rather than the producer which propel it into the public arena.

Only one problem - if you google the term itself, it also means people who make money off the internet (selling ebooks etc) without any fixed base - allowing them to pursue the lifestyle they want (surfing, snow boarding and other cool things). Of course these are two are different sides (production/consumption) of the same coin, but as always it will take time to determine whether the consumption element of cloud living sticks.

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12 November 2010

What I learnt on my travels...

I'm writing this post on the train down to Cambridge to finish off a manic three days which has taken in Harrogate, Southampton and next, my old college to talk to students.

Here are the learning points from the various sessions I ran or attended at the Low Carbon Best Practice Exchange at Harrogate:

• Participants did report a worrying relegation of sustainability in their organisations due to the financial situation (despite evidence that green makes you more recession proof than conventional rivals);

• Staff engagement remains a key concern of practitioners;

• Staff engagement should be fun, meaningful and consistent;

• Data collection is essential both to management and staff feedback;

• Communication needs to be tailored to suit the audience;

• Don't preach;

• Green marketing is about giving consumers what they want guilt-free (controversial?);

• Retailers are acting as gate-keepers of consumer demands;

• Once you start down the green path, you need to keep going strong to keep up with your improved reputation;

• The future shape of the UK's Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) is a mystery to all - yet the CRC is a massive driver for many organisations.

I wasn't participating as much in Southampton - but it was clear from the participants that they are really starting to get it. I gave two keynote speeches, one on the business case for sustainability (similar to the video clip on our YouTube channel) and one on Green Business Leadership (structured around this popular piece I wrote for Management Issues). The second was slightly marred by my throat starting to creak - I've been fighting the lurgy all week - but it went down very well.

Both days I met people who had read the Three Secrets of Green Business which was great - one person quoted something back at me that I had forgotten I had written!

Tonight's talk is about green careers and is basically the story of my own, comparing and contrasting with what I would do if I was starting now.

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10 November 2010

On the sharp end of green procurement

I'm writing this during a break in the Low Carbon Best Practice Exchange in Harrogate*. I've just facilitated a session on Environmental Strategy and an interesting stat from one of the participants from a local authority is that they now award 10% of their tender scores to sustainability. I reminded the participants that every business is part of someone else's carbon footprint - if they want to reduce that footprint then they either have to get their suppliers to cut theirs or find new suppliers.

Interestingly most of the emphasis in green procurement is from the procurer's point of view. But the real question is how to respond and compete on green - how to get the basics right and, importantly how to shine. A small Scottish company, EAE Ltd, was told that they won the green points in one tender (and hence the contract) hands down because everyone else submitted an environmental policy but they put in a picture of their wind turbine. Of course EAE are also a damn good company - green will help a good company, but it won't save a bad one.

If you are interested in how to respond to green procurement, I'm giving a series of workshops on how to compete on green on 30th Nov and 1st Dec, hosted by Compete North East - check out the details here.

* I'll post a summary of my learning points from Harrogate later this week.

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8 November 2010

Is BP a villain? Or are we?

I'm writing this on Sunday evening as I'll be looking after an ill child on Monday morning when this post will go live. I've just watched Stephen Fry and Mark Carwardine's programme about the aftermath of the BP oilspill. They ascertained fairly easily that despite many assurances from many people, pundits and at one point BP itself, that at least 75% of the oil is still in the water - it is only the 25% we can see that has been cleared up - and the dispersant used to achieve that may be as bad as the oil itself.

Where the intrepid pair diverged in their opinion is the blame. Fry took the attitude that it is society's demand for oil that makes companies like BP attempt to drill for oil in such hostile environments, and the company was trying its best to rectify the situation as it possibly could. Carwardine's attitude was that a company raking in such vast profits was fully responsible and were trying to put the best spin on the limited clean up they can actually do.

So who is right?

In my opinion they both are. Dividing society into producers and consumers is a false construct. We are all people whether we are premier league footballers, street sweepers or pensioners. We all consume and we all rely on production for income one way or another*. We can't divide the two and point the finger. Business has responsibility to society and society has responsibility to the planet. If both fulfilled that responsibility properly, the world would be a much better place.

* unless you live in a yurt in the wilderness and forage for roots.

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5 November 2010

Obama uses Green Jujitsu

The mid term election results in the US are almost certainly bad news for the country's stuttering efforts to tackle climate change. One of the key tenets of the Tea Party movement is that climate change, like the theory of evolution, is a liberal conspiracy to blah blah blah.

One of the interesting comments to come out of the White House in the aftermath is that the two main parties could work together on "energy independence". This sounds like a clever piece of 'green jujitsu'. Instead of arguing over the whys and wherefores of the science of climate change again, the jujitsu approach is to reframe the argument into one which your opponent can't refuse. Given oil production in the US peaked many decades ago, the best route to energy independence looks like renewables and energy efficiency which happen to be the key tools in the fight against climate change. The Tea Party will see this as a patriotic effort to protect the land of the free from pesky foreign interference, the Democrats (or most of them anyway) will see it as an attempt to cut carbon. Win-win.

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4 November 2010

Whose carbon footprint are you part of?

My workshop, "Go Green, Win More Business!", at the Newcastle Winning Business conference went well yesterday with some really enthusiastic contributions from the participants. I'm constantly finding that more and more business people "get it" and the elicitation elements are rarely if ever met with baffled silence as they were a few years ago.

One of the points I kept reinforcing is "whose carbon footprint are you part of?" A few years ago, many organisations ignored the supply chain element of their carbon footprint, but this is now the exception rather than the rule.

If your customers, or indeed their customers, are in the public sector then they will have stiff carbon reduction targets to meet. Take, for example, one of my clients, the NHS. 60% of their footprint is in their supply chain. So they either have to get their suppliers to cut their carbon footprint, or find new suppliers.

If you supply to retail, or to customers who do, then Amazon, M&S, Tesco, Wal-Mart, IKEA and many other big sheds have aggressive supply chain sustainability programmes. You are part of their footprint and you'll be expected to shrink that footprint or take a hike. Lots of other big manufacturers and service providers have their own carbon reduction targets.

Traditionally we think of the business case for sustainability being about "what's in it for me?". Perhaps a more pertinent question to ask is "what's in it for our customers?"

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2 November 2010

The Birds and The Bees (and The Snails)

My second son, Jimmy, had his first birthday on Friday, so I had my mother over from Belfast for a long weekend to celebrate. We'd spent the weekend in the house, so yesterday I took her and both boys to Washington Wildfowl and Wetland Trust to do a bit of birdwatching, birdfeeding and cake eating. And fantastic it was too, with a wonderful backdrop of autumnal colours spectacularly lit by the low sun.

I'm a huge fan of conservation. In fact about 13 years ago, I got fed up with the sanctimony of much of the green activist movement and started volunteering with the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers. I planted hundreds of trees, laid hedges and dug several ponds - and doing something practical rather than finger pointing was so much more satisfying.

Conservation and its close cousin biodiversity have been much of the news of late with the UN Convention on Biodiversity meeting in Japan agreeing a 20 point plan to protect species on earth. But you don't have to try and save the rainforest to do your bit to protect biodiversity - you can start literally at home, or in the workplace. Here's some examples:

  • EAE Ltd in Edinburgh have a nature area in a grassy verge barely 3m wide around their site - and you could tell the difference from the sterility of the rest of the business park where they are situated from the bird song alone;
  • Fenwicks department store in the centre of Newcastle has bee hives on the roof;
  • Northumbrian Water have been working to protect the round-mouthed whorl snail - the size of a full stop and only found in one place in the world in County Durham;
  • The chemical industry on Teesside set up the Industry and Nature Conservation Association (INCA) to roll back decades of ecological destruction around the river Tees in general and the Seal Sands estuary in particular - they now have a colony of 70 seals living happily in the shadow of the chemical plants.

While much of our industrial sustainability efforts are focussed on global/regional issues like climate change or acid rain (which have a massive impact on biodiversity), there is much to be said for this kind of very local effort. It engages employees and local people in environmental issues, it provides an opportunity to get up close and personal with nature, it generates lots of goodwill and, not least, it provides a engagement mechanism for those big issues which can often seem distant.

So don't forget about the birds, bees or indeed the round-mouthed whorl snail.

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